Thanks to the peculiar fondness I have felt towards Anna Nicole Smith the majority of my life, I’m not exactly a stranger with the immoral art of gold-digging. I always saw the comedy in these relationships, and it truthfully never occurred to me just how potentially dangerous these situations could become until watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries one evening.
Through my television set, Robert Stack told me all about a man named Louis Carlucci – A ‘sweetheart swindler’ infamous for latching onto spouse after spouse, depleting their bank accounts as if it were a legitimate career. More horrifying than the sum likely exceeding more than $1 million in stolen cash, Carlucci was known to be extremely intrusive, obsessive, and cruel. Furthering my surprise, he is not alone in a life built solely upon spousal fraud, abuse, and extortion. Building upon these core, criminal fundamentals, con artist John Meehan managed to up the ante and procure a tale etched in reality that rivals any fictitious horror show I’ve ever consumed.
Affectionately known by his friends as Dirty John, John Meehan was a man raised on faux-mobster values. His father taught him how to make the most by cutting corners in life for a quick buck, trampling on whoever was deemed necessary in the process. This led to a life fueled by abusive behavior, navigating the United States as a slithering snake hell-bent on devouring his wealthy female prey. Such was the case when he met Debra Newell, a successful interior designer looking for love after multiple failed marriages. What she had assumed would be her happily ever after quickly turned into a living nightmare – A chapter of her life that gained the attention of The Los Angeles Times and spawned a podcast outlining the events, which aired in October of 2017.
Sharing the same name as the aforementioned podcast, to say that the tv-series of DIRTY JOHN is an all-encompassing thrill ride would be a vast understatement. I struggled to separate from my screen because every piece of the story served in composing an entire picture I was unabashedly mesmerized by. I don’t want to divulge any spoilers whatsoever, because I went into this thing completely dry of knowledge and was chilled to the bone by each punctuation in plot. I’ve seldom been put through the ringer so many times with one series, I felt completely in tune – I first felt the thralls of a new romance secondhand, my heart wrenched due to the cruelty delivered by her daughters. When the course took a turn, I felt that devastation and panic deeply. I felt anxious, unsettled, and angry… Every emotion imaginable, it was there for me. I was completely sold on this product and I’d happily be a repeat buyer in a heartbeat.
I should mention that there isn’t a single weak link in this chain – I adored the cast, the pacing, cinematography, everything. But hammering down on the emotional elements once again, I have to say this really touched on something I think about a lot – Empathy. The majority of characters in this story are deeply empathetic, in turn extremely forgiving. They want to believe that there is good in each of us, and that we can somehow be saved… That true evil doesn’t exist. It felt like a cautionary tale as to what can happen if such a person falls into the wrong hands – And man, does it ever get ugly.
If you’re anything like me, you cannot help but wonder how accurate dramatized portrayals are to the real-life source material. Fortunately enough, your questions will be answered in the companion documentary, DIRTY JOHN, THE DIRTY TRUTH. During my viewing experience I couldn’t help but sneer at the notion the series was to be considered ‘dramatized’, for after watching interviews with the very real victims of John Meehan it became very apparent that the true story was far more extreme.
The documentary was a perfect way to conclude my exploration of this shocking chapter in criminal history. Living vicariously through the dialogue of Debra Newell, the real woman who was put through hell and back, is an experience I will not soon forget. Through her, I have learned an invaluable lesson – Monsters are real, and they’re human.
DIRTY JOHN airs each Sunday on Bravo and the two-hour documentary, DIRTY JOHN, THE DIRTY TRUTH will air on January 14th at 8pm ET/PT.